Arike Ogunbowale’s iconic buzzer-beater to seal Notre Dame’s national championship in 2018 almost didn’t happen. Ogunbowale, now a star with the Dallas Wings, tells Kelley O’Hara on the latest episode of The Players’ Pod that she considered leaving the program after her freshman year.
“Coming in, I was a top-five player, McDonald’s All-American, you obviously have all these expectations,” she says. “And then you get there, I am coming off the bench, some games not playing. I’m like, ‘What is this?'”
Instead of entering the transfer portal, though, Ogunbowale decided to commit herself fully to improving her game and earning playing time on coach Muffet McGraw’s team.
“It’s all about trusting the process, trusting yourself, and you just really got to put the work in,” Ogunbowale tells O’Hara.
The number of players opting to transfer in women’s college basketball has reached historic highs the past two offseasons since the NCAA allowed one-time transfers to play without sitting out a season. Ogunbowale has noticed the trend and reflected on her own college journey.
“I love that kids are able to transfer, do whatever they want, but a lot of times you just got to stick through,” Ogunbowale says. “I wanted to leave my freshman year, and if I would’ve left, you never know what would’ve happened. Like, I ended up winning a national championship my junior year that might not have happened anywhere else.”
Sticking it out, Ogunbowale became a starter her sophomore year and averaged 20.8 points per game on the way to leading the Fighting Irish to the NCAA title as a junior. She hit the game-winning shot in Notre Dame’s 2018 Final Four overtime win over UConn before following it up with more heroics against Mississippi State in the championship game.
“The whole year was crazy,” Ogunbowale recalls. “We had, like, four ACL tears so we really were going like six, seven deep the whole season, which honestly, looking back, it’s a blessing because you can make a mistake and coach can’t pull you out.”
The rollercoaster year culminated in an electrifying national championship game, where Ogunbowale sunk the game-winning shot for Notre Dame. The play was actually drawn up for another Notre Dame player to take the show, Ogunbowale says, but it broke down in the moment and the ball ended up in her hands.
“It turned out good, but those three seconds felt like a lifetime literally,” she says. “Anytime I see those shots, especially around March Madness, I obviously get tagged in them a lot … and I just sit and watch it. Like wow, it was crazy.”
Listen to the latest episode of The Players’ Pod for more from Ogunbowale on her basketball journey through college, the WNBA and overseas.